The First Deception
Written June 2002
Synopsis: Paul, a level four operative, finds himself at the mercy of a rookie named Madeline when they are paired together to retrieve stolen plutonium from a weapons dealer.
Disclaimer: The characters within are property of LFN Productions, Warner Bros., and USA Network. No infringement is intended.
Paul was surprised and admittedly a little thrilled by the way Madeline handled their new method of transportation, a U.S.-imported Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Not many women he knew were so content with such a powerful machine, much less knew how to operate one. As they sped down the highway to the airport, he let his mind stray from the mission and linger on his partner. He wasn’t sure what had come over him. He couldn’t focus or think whenever she was around. Hell, he could barely breathe. Since when had he let someone get this far under his skin?
Maybe she thought he wasn’t worthy of his level four status. He hadn’t had a good idea since she came along, but together they were unstoppable. Or at least it seemed that way. He’d know for certain if they reached Ng and Iznosko before they got on the plane.
Madeline slowed as they neared the airport and parked the motorcycle across the street. The sound of a jet engine could be heard from their position. “Doesn’t seem like they’ve left yet,” she muttered, climbing off the bike. She had changed from her dress to an outfit belonging to her former cover. Lifting the night vision goggles to her face, she surveyed the area. “I don’t see many posted guards, just Yuri’s guards outside the door.”
“Your old pals.”
“I can handle them. Save your ammunition for Ng’s men.”
She handed him the binoculars, and he looked out. There were two jeeps and one limousine parked outside the terminal that would provide good cover if needed. The three guards outside were smoking and talking instead of keeping watch. Perhaps Madeline was right; maybe they claimed loyalty to Iznosko to avoid getting killed. Maybe we have some allies. He shifted his attention to what little he could see of the tarmac. Ng’s guards were pushing the wine crates along on short wheeled platforms, while others carefully lifted them into the plane. He didn’t know how many crates they had, but it couldn’t be long until they were finished and ready to leave. “We should get going.” When he didn’t receive a reply, he lowered the goggles and spotted Madeline walking through the parking lot toward the guards. Shaking his head at her impatience, he darted across the street and ducked behind the limousine to watch.
They didn’t shoot at her right away, so things must’ve been going well. He sighed. He wished he knew Ukrainian. They were talking and he could hear them, but it sounded unfamiliar, even with his knowledge of Russian. That’s it, he thought. When I get back to Section, I’m taking archery courses and learning Ukrainian. Madeline was still with the guards–and still alive. He kept his hand on the Makarov just in case.
Great, and now he had a leg cramp. Adjusting his position, he looked through the goggles at the private plane. Ng’s men were still loading the crates. How many did they have? They must have converted the plutonium into a powder and then mixed it with water and put it in the bottles. How many bottles would it take for two kilograms?
He spun around, falling over and landing on the cement. “Hi.”
Madeline smiled at him and gestured to her three companions. “We have some help. This is Dimitri, Petruso, and Vasyl.”
“Uh…” He tried to think of something he could say, some form of greeting. “Privet.” He winced the moment it came out of his mouth. Nothing like insulting your allies by speaking in the wrong language.
“Vitayu,” Madeline corrected, offering a hand and pulling him up.
“Vitayu,” he repeated. “Sorry. How did you get their cooperation?”
“They were loyal to Yuri, not Iznosko. When I told them what was in the crates and what Ng and Iznosko planned on doing with it, they agreed to help.” She paused. “After I threatened them, of course.” She said something to Dimitri, who hoisted her up so she could see into the hangar window. “I see four guards loading the plane and four standing around. Ng is directing the loaders, but I don’t see Iznosko.” She moved her head. “I can’t see everything; there’s a catwalk along the inside walls. For all I know, he’s standing on it above the door.”
Paul nodded. “Okay, strategy?”
“Whatever we do,” Madeline continued, climbing down, “it’s vital that we don’t hit the wine crates or the bottles. We don’t know how protected they are, and if the dust from the plutonium were to get into the air, it would be fatal.”
“I agree. Make sure everyone knows that.” Once she had repeated the instructions in Ukrainian, he withdrew the Makarov. “You sure you don’t want this?”
“I’m going to hang back and look for Iznosko. Dimitri and the others can go after the guards. You get Ng. If you can keep him alive, it could mean the end of Rising Tide.”
“I’ll call Danny, have him send a backup team.” She translated the plan to the others while he contacted Section. “They’ll be here as soon as they can.” He took a breath. “Good luck.”
She leaned against the wall and made a quick hand motion. Paul, Dimitri, and Vasyl stood off to the side while Petruso opened the door and began yelling for help. The unoccupied guards ran to the entrance, and Dimitri and Vasyl jumped out and opened fire. Paul followed them inside, jogging along the perimeter toward Ng. He glanced over his shoulder, but he didn’t see Madeline.
Ng was yelling in Chinese, waving his arms and standing protectively by the wine crates. Paul almost laughed; it was too easy. “Ng!” The man turned and continued shouting. Paul raised his gun. “Don’t move.”
“Don’t shoot! You’ll kill us all!”
Shaking his head, he walked over to him, still aiming. “Where’s Iznosko?”
Paul removed some rope that he had taken from the house and tied it around Ng’s wrists, binding them behind his back. “I’ll ask you again. Where’s Iznosko?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?” He glanced around the room. Mishka’s guards had killed Ng’s men and were now examining the bodies. “Sit down.” He pushed Ng onto one of the wine crates, but the man immediately stood back up. “You sit on it or I’ll shoot the crate.” It was an empty threat, but it worked. Ng sat. Paul reached for a different crate and slid it toward him but accidentally pulled off the lid. He shook his head. “Transporting a nuclear substance in such poor conditions…you should know better, Ng.” He peered inside, and his heart stopped. There were only two bottles, but the crate held three. Was that intentional? “Ng–”
Madeline’s words had barely reached him before the crack of a gun. He heard a groan and saw Ng’s body collapse beside him, blood rushing from a wound to the chest. He turned around and spotted Iznosko on the catwalk, holding the missing wine bottle.
“Paul, he has–”
“I know.” He put his hand on Madeline’s shoulder and stepped past her, withdrawing the Makarov. “Iznosko, give yourself up. You’ve got four weapons pointed at you. Now put the bottle down.”
He sneered down at them. “Oh, I intend to. Right down to the ground.” To accent his point, he held the bottle over the edge of the catwalk and shook it tauntingly.
“If you do that,” Madeline said, “you’ll contaminate the whole area. Hundreds will die, including yourself.”
“At least I will do my part to stop capitalism from polluting the East like it has done to the West.”
“This is about capitalism?” Paul asked. “But this is a communist country. You’ll be killing fellow communists.”
Iznosko hesitated then said fiercely, “People will die. That’s all that matters.”
Madeline muttered, “Get ready,” before speaking in Ukrainian and waving her hand toward the exit. Dimitri, Petruso, and Vasyl backed away, confused looks on their faces.
“Don’t leave!” Iznosko shouted. “The fun is just beginning!”
“No,” Paul replied, cocking the Makarov, “the fun stops here.” He squeezed the trigger, and one bullet exploded out of the barrel, flying through the air and hitting Iznosko in the forehead. Blood splattered in all directions, but Paul’s eyes were on the bottle, which had slid from Iznosko’s grasp and was falling to the ground. His heartbeat echoed in his ears as he broke into a run. The others were also rushing to catch it, but there was no chance. We’re not going to make it. It’s going to hit.
A loud metallic rumbling filled his senses. Madeline went rolling past, soaring on one of the wheeled platforms like an outfielder diving for the fly ball, her arms outstretched in a wild attempt to make the catch. Paul gasped, stopping to watch as the wine bottle sailed gracefully into her hands. She pulled it into her chest and rolled off the dolly before it crashed into the wall.
When his breath finally returned, he stumbled over to where Dimitri was helping her to her feet. “Good catch.”
“Good shot,” she replied. “I knew you could do it if I gave you a gun.”
He chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m never going to live that one down.” She handed him the bottle. “You know, Madeline, we work well together.”
“We weren’t very efficient, except for your hidden knife, but we got the job done.”
“Well, if I get promoted to level five after this mission, I was hoping that you’d join my team.”
“A little anxious, aren’t we?”
“No, just confident.” He smiled. “So what do you say?”
He couldn’t read her emotions to tell whether or not she needed more coercion. Before he had a chance to probe, several Section operatives entered the hangar, and Madeline had to translate the events to the guards. Then Danny came to him, and he eventually lost sight of her.
“Good morning, Paul. Please have a seat.” Adrian watched the man sit, just as he did a few days before. Not much had changed, except his status as an operative. His facial expressions were still too obvious. “I read your debrief from the Mishka mission. It seems that there was a lack of intel.”
“Who do you think was at fault?”
“DRV. They’re in charge of retrieving and verifying the intel; they obviously missed a big chunk of it.”
“DRV,” she repeated. “Not Madeline?”
He raised his eyebrows. “No, not at all.”
Adrian pursed her lips. Interesting. “Why not?”
“I don’t think even the most experienced operative could have expected or uncovered the alliance. We don’t know how long it existed, and there’s no way to verify it now. I don’t think she should be punished for something beyond her control.”
“She’s not being punished. Actually, she was promoted to level two, partly because of your review of her performance.”
His moment of hesitation didn’t go unnoticed. “I think she’ll make an excellent operative. I know she’ll be returning to undercover work soon, but I was hoping she could join my team in the interim.”
“Yes, she had mentioned your request. However, she opted to join a different team.”
“A different team?”
“Yes.” She puffed on her pipe, studying him out of the corner of her eye. The news seemed to affect him. He looked…betrayed? Perhaps that was too strong of a term.
To her surprise, he nodded and said nothing more about it. His psychological profile indicated a penchant for demanding information. She made a mental note to keep her eye on him–and Madeline. First looks were often deceiving.
“Madeline.” Paul smiled as he approached her workstation. She was becoming instantly recognizable from behind by her ever-present French braid. Of course, he had done some research and found out when and where she would be working. Having every resource at his disposal was a beautiful thing.
She swiveled around in her chair and looked at him. “Paul. Congratulations on your promotion.”
“And yours. Not many people are promoted after their first mission.”
“Well, not many people spend a year completing their first mission. I’ll be glad to spend a few months in the field before I go back under deep cover.”
“Yeah, it’s too bad you won’t be joining my team.”
She replied almost immediately, as if she had memorized her response. “I felt it would be more beneficial if I experienced several different methods of leadership. As you said, we worked well together, but perhaps I’m better suited for someone else.”
“I didn’t stop by your station for an explanation. Actually, working on separate teams is a blessing.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Meaning?”
“Now we can go on that date I mentioned the other night at the diner.” He grinned, but she didn’t return the smile. “With us on different teams, there’s no risk.” There was still no answer. “I would like to get to know you better, Madeline. Why do you find that so hard to believe?”
She didn’t speak, turning back to her computer. “I have a lot of work to do.”
Paul stared at her for a moment as she resumed her typing. Changing her mind would be impossible, but maybe if he gave her time, she would be more willing to see him later. Maybe she was just hesitant to have a relationship with a co-worker. Maybe she was already in one. Or maybe she wasn’t interested in him. Whatever the case, there was nothing he could do about it now. With a sigh, he stood and walked away, wondering how they had moved from intimate at the Ya-Ya Club to impersonal at Section One. Although it had only been a few days since she had entered his life, it would take him much longer to get her out of his heart.